Old Heritage Archive

My Top 5 for Promoting Industrial History and Heritage

Aberfulais Falls, near Neath, Wales, site of early copperworking, then tinplate industry (Tehmina Goskar)
Aberfulais Falls, near Neath, Wales, site of early copperworking, then tinplate industry (Tehmina Goskar)

Having had the opportunity to work on various industrial heritage projects over the years and now focusing both my research and professional work in this area, I am publishing what I consider to be five key areas that should be addressed as part of any industrial heritage project. They are particularly aimed at groups and organisations that want to think about promoting their site or collections beyond the locality and beyond immediate interest groups and traditional audiences. They are also aimed at any knowledge exchange collaboration or project that wish to raise awareness of a particular historic industry and its impact on people and societies.

It makes reference to examples based on Welsh copper industrial heritage as that is the project on which I have most recently worked. The Top 5 was originally written in July 2010.

You may freely make use of this guide provided you ensure full attribution is made to me, Tehmina Goskar, and its source on this website.

Top 5 considerations for promoting industrial history and heritage

by Tehmina Goskar, July 2010.

1. What research and interpretation themes could be chosen?

Focusing on an industry over time provides several linked opportunities to explore the history of individuals, communities and human relationships. Possible themes:

  • Material science, technology and engineering (usual focus of industrial history); raw materials, products, specialisation and skills. Associated industrial history: other metals, ceramics, telecommunications, coal.
  • Communications: rail, sea, migration. Where did the industry take people? New World migration when work in Britain begins to dry up.
  • Economic history: profits, losses, investment, taxes, changes in supply and demand, competition.
  • Social history: the creation of the super-rich (copper magnates), jobs for the workers, social mobility.    
  • Was it a man’s world? Gender roles. What did women do?
  • Health and welfare: effects of pollutants and physical labour, role of child labour, employee benefits (housing, school, education).
  • Political history: links to African and Caribbean slavery, labour movements.
  • Cultural contact: culture and commerce between South Wales, rest of UK, e.g. Birmingham, the New Worlds and Asia. Massive international impact of copperworking in Swansea is this history’s unique selling point (‘Imagine a world without copper…’)
  • Sites and archaeology: promoting a sense of place (it could only have happened here), making the intangible real.
  • Associated natural history: of minerals, environments and landscapes before and after.
  • Contemporary resonances: what can we recognise? Urban regeneration. Globalisation. Scramble for natural resources, causes of political and cultural change; consequences when the bottom falls out of a mass market.

2. How can we communicate this history?

In addition to traditional modes of communicating academic research, such as publications (print and online), conferences and workshops, industrial history can be disseminated in a variety of other ways, many of which also offer the opportunity for audiences to feed back:

  • Online. Searchable/discoverable digital resources/exhibitions comprising images, textual descriptions and narratives or analysis, audio and video podcasts (e.g. monthly podcast introducing an aspect of the history, can double up as an educational resource), 3D visualisations, games, spatial representation of data: maps/plans.
  • Museum/gallery-based. Travelling exhibition (already planned?) to take history out of locality. Handling collections for schools and visitors.
  • Education. Through courses, or contributions of course content (including elearning) relating to the subject or aspects of it for continuing education, undergraduate and postgraduate courses, school curricula; informal educational opportunities through public lectures, tours (e.g. Brian Perrins’ tours of the Hafod site), resource-based learning at local libraries.
  • Documenting the research project. Newsletters to stakeholders, blogging, tweeting. Fact/object of the week…
  • Offering content in alternative languages.

3. To whom should we communicate this history?

Apart from academic and enthusiast historians and archaeologists of (modern) Wales, Britain, and the industrial revolutions, this history would appeal to:

  • Local communities and visitors to the area, e.g. local libraries and archive users, tourist information centres.
  • Scholars and students of material culture, social economics, historical geography, globalisation and natural history.
  • Professionals in allied organisations such as local curators and librarians, industrial heritage sites such as the Cornwall and West Devon World Heritage Site, Blaenavon World Heritage Site (inc. Big Pit National Mining Museum), TICCIH (The International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage), ERIH (the European Route of Industrial Heritage), Social History Curators Group, etc.
  • Family historians wishing to find out about an ancestor.
  • Local historians, not just in South Wales but also in the places linked to it by the copper industry (esp. abroad).
  • School children and lifelong learners (see above).
  • Journalists and broadcasters who will help promote the stories.
  • Writers, poets and artists who will take inspiration from the subject.

4. Who else could write about this history?

Stephen Hughes’ study, Copperopolis. Landscapes of the Early Industrial Period in Swansea (RCAHMW, 2000), is arguably the classic work on the copper and allied industries in Swansea from the 15th to 20th centuries. The academic output from this project will add important new resources to the bibliography. As this project coincides with urban regeneration and conservation initiatives lead by Swansea Council (ebook on Hafod Copperworks: c2010) the opportunity to invite (some) contributions from those other than the project team would give the added benefit of diversifying audiences and providing more ambassadors for the project. All contributions would require editorial and quality control. Examples include:

  • Experts in specific areas from other organisations.
  • Suitably qualified or trained volunteers who could also contribute to cataloguing collections.
  • Students, as assignments or work placements.
  • Contribution of opinions and memories via website comments or oral history.
  •  Local and cultural journalists and writers.
  • Artists interpreting the subject in alternative media, e.g. songs, poems, sculpture, acting.

5. How can history become heritage?  

By sharing it with as many people as possible.

Participation will encourage ambassadorship and word of mouth promotion of the subject. Inviting comments and thoughts from various audiences will improve how this history is communicated while also giving others a sense of ownership of it. A sense of place can be generated through a common understanding of the past, and a common desire to see it perpetuated in the future. Written and communicated history needs to be tied in closely with the physical remains to make this happen. The Welsh copper industries’ impact on communities across the UK and the world means that this history is their heritage too, and efforts should be made to communicate at least some of it to those audiences as well.